The New Orleans Saints (11-5) will begin their playoff run against the NFC East division winner Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday at 8:30 ET. The Saints haven’t had success on the road this season and haven’t won a road playoff game, but this will be the first playoff game for Nick Foles and Chip Kelly. There are plenty of aspects to look at in this game, but here are the most important ones.
1) Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette vs Eagles O Line
The Eagles has been explosive this season and Nick Foles has played as well as anyone since taking over as the Eagles’ starter. The Saints’ defense will be hard pressed to get Foles to turn the ball over as he has only thrown 2 interceptions compared to 27 touchdowns. Though the Saints’ defense hasn’t been great at creating turnovers, but has been one of the best in league when it comes to sacking the quarterback.
The Eagles offensive line is susceptible to giving up sacks; they gave up 5 to Dallas last week. If Cam Jordan and Junior Galette, who both have ten plus sacks this season, can get to Foles consistently and create pressure, that will limit the big play ability of Chip Kelly’s offense. More importantly, it will relieve pressure from a secondary that has become very thin without Jabari Greer and stud rookie Kenny Vaccaro.
2) Terron Armstead
Two weeks ago, Sean Payton made the switch from Charles Brown to Terron Armstead at left tackle. After a nightmare start against Carolina’s Greg Hardy, he had a solid game against an underrated Tampa Buccaneers defensive line giving up no sacks.
Armstead’s job gets no easier as he faces Trent Cole, one of the best in the business. Armstead athletically can hang with Cole, but this will be a stiff challenge for his third start. Hopefully, Payton adjusts his game plan slightly with some extra attention on passing downs and an early establishment of runs to slow down the pass rush, or there will be a similar result as the one in Carolina.
3) Lesean McCoy
Chip Kelly’s offense is explosive. Despite the perception that Kelly’s offense at Oregon and Philadelphia are high flying passing attacks, they all revolve around a potent rushing attack. At Oregon, he had Lamichael James, Kenjon Barner, and others; now that he is in Philly, he touts one of the best running backs in the league in Lesean McCoy, who just won the rushing title.
Unfortunately, the Saints defense, though improved, is very leaky against the run. However, the Saints have shown the ability to limit other good running backs with special packages including Marshawn Lynch (44 yards), Frank Gore (48 yards), and Matt Forte (55 yards). The Saints will need a similar type of performance if they are to have a chance on the road.
Jimmy Graham has a chance to exploit the Eagles linebackers.
4) Jimmy Graham vs Eagles Linebackers
The Eagles beat the Cowboys in the Week 17, but they surrendered 135 yards to Jason Witten. This is bad news with Jimmy Graham coming to town. Graham led the league, regardless of position, with 16 touchdown receptions, and amassed over 1200 yards.
Graham will be matched up with Demeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. It will be hard to contain Graham, but if neither of these players are able to slow Graham down, even a little bit, the Eagles may be forced to move a corner or a safety on to Graham, which would open the field up for the rest of the Saints’ pass catchers.
5) X Factor: Desean Jackson and other special teamers
This game will be explosive and close, and figures to have an abundance of points. There are many playmakers in this game, especially on special teams. Expect this game to possibly turn on a play by the likes of Desean Jackson or Darren Sproles.
It will be up to Thomas Morestead, one of the best in the business, and Donnie Jones, who had a great performance against the Cowboys in Week 17, to keep these playmakers out of fold. In addition, the Saints will be hoping their new kicker Shayne Graham is stable in what could be windy conditions. The Saints can ill afford to leave points on the board against a very high powered offense.